The Skincare Question

Recently Cosmopolitan interviewed Senator, and Democratic presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren.  Among many other questions that were asked, Cosmopolitan posed a question to the Senator from Massachusetts about . . . her “skincare routine.”  The exchange went like this:

Jessica Pels: You knew this was coming. What is your skincare routine?

Elizabeth Warren: Pond’s Moisturizer.

Elizabeth Warren: Every morning, every night. And I never wash my face.

Jessica Pels: Wow.

Elizabeth Warren: Nope, nope.

Jessica Pels: You’re one of those.

Elizabeth Warren: Yeah, I am.

Jessica Pels: That’s a very French thing.

2e9867e5-41c6-42ef-8e91-3ef0f7b23b73.jpg.w1920Weirdly, the Q&A on the Senator’s skincare habits has drawn as much attention as anything else in the interview, with some people expressing mystification at the fact that she evidently never washes her face.  I’m not really qualified to comment on somebody’s skincare routine, although I seem to remember seeing my mother and grandmothers dipping into a little jar of Pond’s cold cream now and then.

Apparently Cosmopolitan asks the skincare question to all of the candidates, male and female, and if you’re interested you can see the answers given so far here.  You’ll be stunned to learn that Senator Bernie Sanders doesn’t do much in the skincare area.  (I would have thought he would need to apply a mild form of sandblasting to those leathery jowls, frankly.)  And Joe Biden hasn’t been quizzed on the skincare topic yet, so we don’t know whether, as I suspect, he regularly applies something to that porcelain visage to make sure that it doesn’t crack.

Seriously, though — do we need to ask political candidates these kinds of intrusive, personal questions?  I’m sure some would argue that it humanizes them, and I suppose the barrier was forever broken when some unduly curious person asked Bill Clinton whether he wore boxers or briefs.  I, for one, don’t need to know about that, or skincare routines, or shaving techniques, or preferred deodorants.  I think we’d all be better off if we left a little respectful distance between ourselves and the everyday personal routines of the people seeking higher office.  Ask them about their positions, look into their backgrounds and public activities, and explore their voting records all you want — but can’t we leave a respectful zone of privacy in the skincare and personal hygiene areas?

My Friends And Family Resolution

I’ve thought a bit about what my New Year’s resolution for 2020 should be, and I’ve decided it really is pretty simple:  my resolution is to try to make it to the end of 2020 without irretrievably alienating any of my friends or family.

This may sound like an easy resolution to keep, but I don’t think it is — not really.  In fact, I think 2020 is going to be one of the toughest years, ever, to get through while keeping your coterie of friends, family, and colleagues intact.  That’s because, in this already absurdly super-heated political environment, we’re moving into a year where there will be a presidential campaign, a presidential election, and, apparently, an impeachment trial — all percolating at the same time.  Many of my friends and family members, of all political stripes, feel very passionately about each of those events in isolation.  When you put them all together you’ve got what is probably the most combustible combination of political events in American history.

One year that might be comparable is 1864, when a presidential election took place in the midst of a Civil War, when even the Union, alone, was bitterly divided.  But even 1864 might not really be a good comparator, because in those days the candidates and the country as a whole didn’t need to run a gauntlet of caucuses, primaries, debates, and 24-hour news coverage.  Unfortunately, we’ll be subjected to all of those things.

Our current circumstances have produced the kind of fervent environment where one ill-chosen word or ill-advised joke could damage feelings beyond repair, end a friendship that has endured for decades, or cause family members to vow never to talk to each other or interact again.  I don’t want that to happen.  I like and respect all of my family members and friends, and I’d like to end 2020 without experiencing any regrets that some stupid blog post, social media comment, or argument after a few adult beverages wrecked things.  So this year will be a year of walking on eggshells, with all things dealing with the presidential election off-limits for me.  Call me a wimp if you want.

This is my own, self-imposed pledge.  I’m not going to shush my friends or try to keep them from expressing their strongly held views in strongly phrased ways.  But as for me, I value my friends and family more than I value my need to engage in political debates.

 

Of Constitutional Concern

Through a vote yesterday, President Trump has been formally impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.  The matter now moves to the U.S. Senate.

I’ll leave the impeachment proceedings to the talking heads — for now at least.  Today I’d like to focus, instead, on another area of constitutional concern that has been lost in the constant drumbeat of news on impeachment.  I’m speaking of an extraordinary order issued by the FISA Court earlier this week, in the wake of the recent Inspector General’s report on the conduct of the FBI and the Department of Justice in receiving authorization to conduct surveillance.  I’ve linked to the text of the Order above.

fb-seal-headquartersThe FISA court gets its name from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the statute which created the Court.  FISA requires the government to apply for, and receive authorization from, the FISA Court before it can engage in electronic surveillance.  The applications are to be made in writing, upon oath or affirmation, by a federal officer from the agency, such as the FBI, that seeks to conduct the surveillance.  The FISA Court — consisting of judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations — is then supposed to review the applications to decide whether they establish probable cause that the proposed surveillance target is a “foreign power” or an “agent of a foreign power” within the meaning of FISA.

This process is critical because — as the FISA Court’s Order issued this week notes — it was designed to allow the FISA Court to provide a check on executive branch power to conduct surveillance and thereby protect the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens against unlawful search and seizure.  To allow the Court to do that job, FISA imposes a heightened duty of candor upon the federal agents and agencies in their applications to the Court.  The FISA Court considers candor to be “fundamental” to its effective operations.

The Order issued this week makes it clear that the FBI, in seeking the FISA Court’s approval of the surveillance order that was discussed in the Inspector General’s report, did not meet its duty of candor — not by a long shot.  To the contrary, the Court notes that the Inspector General’s report “documents troubling instances” in which FBI personnel provided information that was “unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession” and “withheld . . . information in their possession which was detrimental to their case for believing that [Carter] Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

In addition, the Order notes that an attorney for the FBI engaged in conduct that “apparently was intended to deceive the FBI agent who ultimately swore to the facts in that application about whether Mr. Page had been a source of another government agency.”  The Court believes that the conduct of the attorney gives rise to “serious concerns about the accuracy and completeness of the information provided to the [FISA Court] in any matter (emphasis added)” in which the attorney was involved.

The Order adds:  “The FBI’s handling of the Carter Page applications, as portrayed in the OIG report, was antithetical to the heightened duty of candor described above. The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable. The FISC expects the government to provide complete and accurate information in every filing with the Court. Without it, the FISC cannot properly ensure that the government conducts electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes only when there is a sufficient factual basis.”

The FISA Court’s Order concludes by ordering the FBI to provide a sworn written submission identifying what it has done, and what it will do, to ensure that the statements of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely set forth the material information in the possession of the FBI.  It will be interesting to see how the FBI responds.

In today’s world, there’s often argument about whether the news that is reported, and the characterization of events that is conveyed, is slanted or biased or accurate.  The FISA Court’s Order — which is only four pages long, and can be read and understood by any educated American — allows us to go to the source and see how a Court that is composed of judges with lifetime tenure who were appointed by both Republicans and Democrats is reacting to a detailed report on serious misconduct by the FBI.

The Fourth Amendment is there to protect all of us — Democrat, Republican, or Independent, liberal or conservative.  If the FBI is willing to distort, deceive, and misrepresent to pursue an agenda, that’s a concern for everyone.  We should all be grateful to the FISA Court for putting aside politics, recognizing that the ends don’t justify the means, and holding the FBI to account.

Trash Tax

I’m a big believer in the “user fee” concept of funding governmental services.  The underlying notion is simple:  many governmental services benefit us all, but some benefit only the specific users of the service — so why not have them bear the lion’s share of the cost of providing that service?  If a municipal government operates an airport, for example, it seems eminently fair to fund its construction and operations through taxes and charges to the passengers who fly through the airport and the airlines, rental car companies, and other who profit by doing business at the airport.

I think governmental entities also should consider expanding the “user fee” concept to look not only at who benefits from government services, but also at who causes the need for the government service in the first place.  I’m thinking specifically about the trash that you find at the parks, and on the streets and sidewalks, of Columbus and other American cities.  At some point, for example, somebody from some governmental entity comes to Schiller Park, empties the refuse cans, and picks up the random bits of trash to be found on the park lawns and sidewalks.

As a dedicated litter fighter who tries to pick up and throw away the random trash found at Schiller, I know first hand that much of the contents of the trash cans, and virtually all of the litter on the lawns and sidewalks, is fast food debris — coffee cups and lids, cheap styrofoam containers, straws, straw wrappers, sandwich wrappers, napkins, and carryout bags.  It’s virtually inevitable that at least some portion of fast food carryout will end up as litter, and as you move from the area around the McDonald’s to the area around the Starbucks you see the change in the litter patterns that reflects that.

So why not impose a targeted “trash tax” on fast food restaurants that helps to defray the cost of picking up the litter that those businesses generate?  It would be different from any fees paid for maintaining dumpsters at the fast food restaurant that get emptied from time to time, and would instead focus on the cost of the consequences of fast food carryout from a neighborhood trash standpoint.  And if fast food restaurants wanted to pass on the cost by charging carryout customers a bit more, I’d be fine with that, too.

Litter is a curse that can ruin enjoyment of parks and neighborhoods.  It seems eminently fair to require the businesses that cause the litter problem to pay for addressing it.

Branded Brand

I’m in Washington, D.C. for meetings, staying in the old part of town between the Capitol and the White House.  Last night I had dinner with a colleague.

When my friend reached out to me last week to make arrangements for meeting for dinner, he carefully raised two issues:  first, did I like steak, and second, if I did like steak, would I mind going to the steakhouse in the Trump International Hotel, which is located in the Old Post Office building that is very close to my hotel?

I chuckled a bit at the cautious way in which my colleague approached even the  possibility of eating dinner at a restaurant in a Trump property.  Clearly, he was wary that even though the venue was very convenient and the restaurant had a good reputation, just making such a suggestion might bring an explosion and denunciation in response to the very thought of passing under the Trump name.  And his careful approach was entirely justified, because there is no doubt that a significant segment of the American population has sworn off ever doing anything that involves setting foot on the premises of a Trump property or that might be viewed as acceptance or support of the Trump brand.  Me?  I like steak and especially like being able to walk to a convenient dining venue, so I agreed to have dinner at the Trump International steakhouse — which was very good, by the way.

Still, I found the incident pretty remarkable.  I’m not familiar with the value of the Trump brand prior to his run for the presidency, but it seems pretty clear that it has been affected, and not in a good way, by Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail and as President — to the point where even mentioning the possibility of visiting a Trump property for dinner is a subject to be approached with delicacy and trepidation lest sensibilities be bruised and personal relationships be shattered.

That’s not exactly a good attribute for a brand.

When Ad Campaigns Go Wrong

There’s a significant and growing methamphetamine problem in South Dakota, and the state is trying to deal with the many issues — crime, death, health care, and others — that are all part of the problem.  As is typical these days, one element of the state’s response is an ad campaign, to raise awareness and let the citizens of South Dakota know that their state government is addressing the crisis.

1515148b-2d9a-4751-b912-b612a4defb48-meth._were_on_it._images_1So, what ad campaign did South Dakota come up with?  One that features the tag line:  “Meth.  We’re on it.”

I’m serious — that’s really the key line in the ad campaign.

Of course, once the campaign appeared, the inevitable jokes started flowing, and South Dakota has become a bit of a laughingstock.  Newspapers in South Dakota have been weighing in on the campaign and resulting public relations debacle, and you can read some of their editorial reactions here and here.  The prevailing view seems to be that while the campaign may have achieved the goal of raising awareness of South Dakota’s meth problem — after all, it’s undoubtedly received far more national publicity than your average, run-of-the-mill “click it or ticket”-type public safety ad campaign — the embarrassment the state is experiencing due to the campaign probably  isn’t worth it.  And there’s the obvious lingering question:  couldn’t somebody in state government have recognized that this kind of reaction to the campaign was bound to happen?

There’s another, deeper question, too — why South Dakota felt that an ad campaign was needed in the first place.  The production of the ads cost $449,000, and when all of the ad spots are purchased, the total cost of the campaign will be about $1.4 million.  That’s a lot of money, and it’s entirely fair to ask whether it should have been spent on an any ad campaign — even a competently created one that didn’t make South Dakota the butt of jokes.  Wouldn’t the money have been far better spent on state programs that are specifically dealing with the meth problem, rather than ads featuring flinty-eyed ranchers and other South Dakotans?

South Dakota’s disastrous ad campaign may have raised awareness of the meth problem in an unexpected way, but maybe it also will raise awareness of the stupidity and waste caused by governmental TV ad campaigns generally.  Maybe the next time an ad campaign is suggested by a state agency in South Dakota or elsewhere, some thoughtful person will remember the “Meth.  We’re on it” flop, nix the ad campaign, and see that the money is spent instead on actually directly addressing the problem in question.

A Reason For The Ratings

Apparently some people on the conservative side of the spectrum are noting that the ratings for the impeachment hearings aren’t very strong. They cite the ratings to argue that the American public at large just isn’t interested in the proceedings.

They’ve clearly overlooked one obvious reason for the viewership statistics: why watch during the day when you can come home at night and get utterly unbiased and objective reactions to the proceedings from your Facebook friends, left and right?

We may be living through social media’s finest hour!